Christina Rossetti,  national poetry month 2009

Christina Rossetti: Pre-Raphaelite Poetry

Christina Rossetti

When discussing poetry and the Pre-Raphaelites, it is impossible not to think of Christina Rossetti.  Her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and used Christina as a model in some of his early Pre-Raphaelite works (The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini).

The poem I’ve chosen today is fitting for a site discussing Pre-Raphaelite women.  Women  whose faces are familiar, who gaze silently from the canvas as the artists they loved cast them in roles such as Ophelia, Pandora, Helen of Troy.   Without the artists, we would know nothing about these women at all.  But when we see them, we are seeing them through the artist’s eyes.

Christina most likely wrote this poem about her brother Gabriel’s relationship with Elizabeth Siddal.  But it applies to several of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and their favorite models.

In An Artist’s Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

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